Ray (2004)

Rating: B-

Dir: Taylor Hackford
Star: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell

Make no mistake, Foxx doesn’t so much play Ray Charles as become him. I confess to qualms over how worthy this is as ‘acting’, when you’re less creating a character than imitating one, but the results are undeniably impressive. The story-line is less effective, perhaps an inevitable event of the biopic genre; people’s lives are rarely conveniently cinematic. This covers the period between his 1947 arrival off the bus in Seattle – he immediately meets Quincy Jones, which is either astonishing coincidence or clunky cinematic writing – and his kicking of heroin in the mid-sixties.

In the meantime, he becomes famous, marries, acquires mistresses and has kids both in and out of wedlock – though the film doesn’t quite do him justice in the last area, since the final tally was twelve, by seven different women. Well done, Ray! You must have got up very early. Anyway, back in the film, I can’t say the story-line did very much for me. The makers seem very convinced of the importance of dates, labelling each year as it happens, yet little is done to put this into any kind of social or historical context.

The only real attempt is a fictional incident where Charles walked away from a segregated show in Georgia and was banned for life from playing in the state; in reality, he did refuse to play such a show, but also played the South African resort of Sun City in 1981. With a life like Charles’s, the makers didn’t really need to start making stuff up. However, the film is carried by Foxx and the songs; even someone like myself, whose tastes run to synthesizers, 130 BPM and, often, a German accent, found their feet tappin’ and fingers snappin’ more often that I’m prepated to admit. It’s about the music, man, and that’s when the film bursts from melodrama into incandescent life.